Better health and incomes result from waste recycling
Student health issues that were linked back to trash on campus spurred the Enactus team at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri to explore waste management at their university. Further investigation revealed overwhelming challenges with polyethylene materials – burning polyethylene plastic is harmful to air quality and, due to its lack of biodegradability, burying these items is a determent to soil and water – so it soon became clear that what was initially thought to be a need for coordinated trash control was a bigger matter with opportunities for far-reaching impact.
The team saw the answer in creating new and useful products from the waste. By re-purposing the plastics into items such as raincoats, shower caps and bags, the university could be more environmentally responsible, campus health could be improved and new skills could be developed among students and members of their town. To maintain participation in this recycling process, the team event created a plan that filtered the profits from the sale of the new items back to the workers producing them. So what started with a minimum idea to clean up trash on campus quickly blossomed into a venture would have benefits in the broader community.
They started by partnering with the student union government and the school authority to conduct the university’s first campus-wide sanitation exercise. This established an organized, effective way to collect the waste plastics as well as created awareness and support for the project on campus. After the collection the team worked with members of the university vocational center to sort, disinfect and dry the items in preparation for their next life. A group of community tailors were then identified to transform the recycled plastic into coats, caps and bags.
Thanks to the “Eco Drive” project, the campus now conducts monthly waste collections and the university medical team has reported a dramatic decline in student illnesses. In addition, more than 25 people are now actively engaged in waste conversion, which has resulted in vocational students gaining greater skills for their futures and community tailors adding new products to their wares to generate more income. Just as important, potentially harmful plastics are being given the chance to be something positive and beneficial.